I always have felt a strange connection to Jimmy Carter. It probably stems from the fact that my dad, a liberal Democrat to his final day, passed away when Carter was president.
Like millions of Americans who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, I had high hopes he would reboot America after Richard Nixon and Watergate (yes, I know Carter beat Jerry Ford in ’76).
If you look at his record of creating more than 10 million new jobs in four years, Carter ranks up there with some of the finest presidents in modern history. Despite that accomplishment, you also have to look at other factors impacting his term in office. The original Iranian hostage crisis, long lines at the gas pump, rising unemployment and an inflation rate of 18 to 20 percent were almost unsolvable problems for Carter.
When I was working at the Democratic National Committee in 1974, Carter’s key political adviser, Hamilton Jordan, often would hold meetings with top DNC officials in our Washington offices. Back in those days, most professional men I knew wore dress shirts, ties and suits to work. Not Ham. He showed up in jeans and cowboy boots.
At first, I wrote him off as an outlaw of sorts. Little did I know he was one of the smartest political operatives of our time. I think it’s safe to say that had Jordan not been working for Carter, the former governor of Georgia never would have become President of the United States.
Despite Carter’s superior intelligence, and the many smart people who surrounded him, he simply didn’t have the requisite skills to manage America’s troubling times. I submit that even if someone had Albert Einstein’s brain power and fictional oilman J. R. Ewing’s cunning ways in the late 1970s, no president could have emerged from the White House unscathed. That certainly defines Carter’s four years in the Oval Office.
In many ways, I feel Jimmy Carter’s presidency was a warm-up act for his after-Washington life of service to others, religious faith, and deep and considerable humility. In short, while he eagerly participated in the rough and tumble of politics at the highest levels, I believe he really was more comfortable in his role as mediator and friend.
To this point, the Camp David Accords he struck with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Manachem Begin still stand today as a testament to Carter’s quiet but, determined, leadership style. Despite all the turmoil in the Middle East now, these two great nations still are at peace today. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Jimmy Carter.
Mr. President, I wish you a speedy recovery from your latest fall. I also want to remind Americans you showed us a firm handshake can be stronger medicine than a bomb or a missile. I am sure my dad would have agreed.
Denny Freidenrich lives in Laguna Beach. He served as a congressional staff assistant on Capitol Hill in 1972.